Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Big Math in Finals

Want some intriguing discussion on the cataclysmic chance that a Phil Jackson team will lose a playoff series after winning the first contest? Turn to the brilliant math folks at Caltech:

Are you telling me that if the Lakers win in the opener Thursday night at Staples Center, the Celtics aren't going to be peppered with that number [47-0] for the next two weeks? And that at least some of it isn't going to stick?

"I know when I go to the free-throw line, the odds of me missing one grow if I haven't missed one in a while,'' Boston's Ray Allen said with a grin. ''So I'll think of it like that.''

The Celtics act like the number is a coincidence. Smarter people than both of us say it is not ... I decided that, yes, I should consult with someone from the brainiest university in the country.

So I called the folks from Caltech.

A couple of grad students in applied and computational mathematics —Stephen Becker and Mike McCoy — figured that the odds of going 47-0 by coincidence were less than three in a billion.

''I would be demoralized if I were the other team,'' Becker said.

Gary Lorden, a Caltech professor emeritus in mathematics, added, ''If I were a huge basketball fan and ran into this stat, I would say, wow.''